Should Christian Critics Be Applauding Certain Oscar Contenders?

UPDATE: Okay, I admit, I posted a somewhat reactionary entry earlier after reading Barbara Nicolosi’s post about the Oscars today at Church of the Masses. I’m a big Barbara Nicolosi fan, even though I don’t always agree with her, and today’s post just rubbed me the wrong way. So, to make up for my disrespect to Barbara, I’m going to re-word this post, since Barbara’s been gracious enough to clarify…

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Act One screenwriting guru and blogger Barbara Nicolosi is on the attack today, criticized some of the Christian film reviewers who are to be found guilty of applauding certain Oscar contenders this year. The headline of her post was– “Sinning Against the Holy Spirit,” a reaction to the almost-total Oscar-snub of The Passion of the Christ.

I think the Gospel is the Greatest Story Ever Told. Yes, I do. I swear. But I’ve gotta be honest: I found some truly worthwhile things in those films.

I found value, real value, in The Aviator. I thought the film was guilty of celebrating Howard Hughes’ vanity, yes. But it was also a troubling portrait of a man with out-of-control compulsions, who ran roughshod over those around him. It was hard not to wonder if some of his ailments came from his own reckless lifestyle. “Dreaming the impossible dream” may be the way many pursue happiness, but clearly, it does not always lead to happiness.

I’m not recommending Closer, but as a story written by someone clearly familiar with extreme wickedness in the politics of relationships, it felt to me like an effort to face reality, to show the crap for what it was, to call liars “liars,” and to expose the disease in the hearts of the people involved. It didn’t find many answers, but as an ugly expose on the *problem,* it had some merit.

Vera Drake? I didn’t think it was advocating abortion so much as portraying the conflicted life of an abortionist… What is more, the abortionist was portrayed as a woman of misguided compassion, whose oversimplification of the issues led her to the disgrace of her family. The woman seemed incapable of having a coherent thought. She was all emotion, and that led to rash action.

The movie also had an absolutely charming, unlikely romance in one of its subplot that had little or nothing to do with the abortion-oriented plot. That subplot suggests that it’s not abortion that Leigh’s really concerned with here… it’s the way we can connect with one another through our mutual wounds and sufferings.

Million Dollar Baby: I also am in the minorty on this one, thinking it’s not advocating criminal behavior or sinful behavior, but rather showing us the life of a man who loses faith in God, and who makes a decision that–while celebrated by the narrator–clearly leads to the devastation of his conscience and the loss of all his hopes. I have a hard time understanding how someone could see that film and come away wanting to do what Eastwood’s character did. This film gives us a *wonderful* opportunity to share an experience with other moviegoers and then discuss it with them afterward. It gives us a provocation to a conversation in which we stand up for life and defend it.

Sideways: A movie about fools that knows it’s about fools. And while those fools engage in some spectacularly misguided affairs and exploits, I appreciated the film’s gentle exploration of wine as a metaphor for life. Sure, Thomas Hayden Church’s character was reprehensible, but I thought the movie was pretty clear about that. There are a lot of lost, confused, self-absorbed people out their fumbling their way toward the truth, sometimes because they’ve made outrageous mistakes. I detected that subtle shift in this one. I’m still “ho-hum” on this film, and it’s not even in my Top Twenty. But I don’t think it’s an abomination.

I can’t LIE and say that I thought Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was a spectacular work of art. It was a powerful film… yes… but rather simplistic and heavy-handed in its imagery. I don’t need a long, lingering shot of maggots on a donkey corpse to make me feel creeped out by Judas’s betrayal … for example. I did, however, love Maia Morgenstern’s performance, and wish she had been nominated. I just don’t feel it’s any grievous blow to Oscar’s credibility that they didn’t nominate Gibson’s film with more acknowledgments. In each particular category, I think there were films that fulfilled the category better. Just because a poem is about Jesus doesn’t make it a GREAT poem.

Oscar rarely has much of a clue anyway. This year, they showed far more discernment than usual. Four nominations for The Incredibles? Much love for Eternal Sunshine and Finding Neverland? Fantastic cinematography choices, including THREE foreign films?! They’re learning a few lessons, slowly… but they’re learning them.

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  • Justin

    I was actually fairly happy with the Oscar noms this year…although they were predictable. I do feel that Passion and Enternal Sunshine were overlooked for Best Picture. I have always respected your opinions on movies, and I think your one of the few christians out there who has an open mind to filmmaking. I do feel that maybe you were a bit hard on the Passion though. However, I do agree that alot of christians have taken that film and elevated it to a level that no film should be taken to. It is after all just a movie, and should only be taken as that.

  • adam

    ” heavy-handed in its imagery”

    What is a movie? A story told with pictures, images. I think the Passion was great. The village, now that’s a real movie. Ps. found your blog recently, look forward to reading it regularly. Take care,

    http://www.theologylog.com

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Okay… My apologies. I overreacted. I’ve revised and clarified my response.

    Your post came as the latest of several things I’d read today that had worked me into a bit of a fit. I should have taken a long walk, breathed some fresh air, and calmed down before posting. Hopefully my new version is clearer.

  • Barbara

    P.S. I do think you are underrating some of the artistic achievement in TPOTC. The inter-cutting alone creating several stunning juxtapositions was worth an editing nod.

    But this is just my humble opinion.

  • Barbara

    Oh, Jeffrey!

    I never said it was a sin to not like TPOTC! My use of the Scripture text was to point to the industry throwing accolades at films that are essential depraved in their themes. In some cases – generally acting – these films are remarkable — but we can’t let the excellence in craft obscure the fact that the hearts of these projects are ‘rotten and full of dead men’s bones.’

    I am taking issue with Christian critics who are reacting so strongly against the general condemnation that is the response of the Church to pop-culture, than we end up lauding poison.

    I’ll rework the post, however….


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